Community LGBTQ+ Artists Exploring Identity Through Song

by Sam Manzella | October 31, 2022

For many LGBTQ+ musicians, songwriting is much more than a creative outlet.

Making music offers a way to parse through complicated feelings around topics like queer relationships and identity. It's empowering and cathartic for LGBTQ+ artists and listeners alike.

Citi has continued to support Music Forward Foundation’s LGBTQ+ Emerging Artist Award to help make sure that these important voices are heard. The program, which first launched in June 2021,  awards $10,000 grants to 15 rising LGBTQ+ musicians to help support their creativity. This year’s recipients were announced in early October, just in time for LGBTQ+ History Month. 

The 2022 winners include Yancyabril, a born-and-raised New Yorker exploring identity through songwriting; Victor Jackson, an Atlanta, GA, native using music to uplift Black queer joy; and Emma Jayne, a Brooklyn-based folk-pop artist and music educator empowering the next generation of LGBTQ+ musicians.

Life and Money by Citi had the opportunity to meet these three 2022 LGBTQ+ Emerging Artists and talk about their process, finding purpose and inspiring others through their work.

Yancyabril: Exploring identity through songwriting

Growing up, Yancyabril struggled to express herself. The R&B singer says she was always artistic, but it wasn’t until she joined a music-focused after-school program in fifth grade that she truly found her voice.

“I was like: OK, I can write songs,” she recalls. “I can learn how to play guitar and say what I want to say without having to say it — I can just sing it.”

Yancyabril honed her craft by attending a performing arts high school and studying at a jazz conservatory in college. In 2019, she released her first single, a moody acoustic-pop cut called “Shut You Down.” She continues to write and release new music, toying with different sonic influences as she goes.

For Yancyabril, songwriting provides a creative outlet to explore her budding queerness without the scrutiny of formally coming out. It’s a topic that is still difficult for her to discuss outside of her music. “I don’t feel like a ‘her.’ I don’t feel like a ‘he.’ I feel like a person,” she says. “It’s such an emotional thing.”

Music has helped Yancyabril reconnect with her cultural identity, too. The bilingual artist is currently competing on a singing competition show in her parents’ native Dominican Republic. On the show, she sings primarily in Spanish. “I feel like I always ran away from that side of me,” she explains. “Why run away from something that’s making you stand out a little bit?’”

Yancyabril says that the LGBTQ+ Emerging Artist Award grant will help fund her next release. “As an independent artist, that’s the hardest part: just getting the finances to do what you want to do,” she says. “It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, being in this industry. It’s a lot and it drains you, but I love it. I want to make it as far as I can.”

R&B singer, Yancyabril

R&B singer, Yancyabril - Photo courtesy of Yancyabril

Victor Jackson: Planting hope for Black queer love

When Victor Jackson says music is in his blood he isn’t exaggerating. The multi-hyphenate creative (titles include: choreographer, actor, producer and creative director) hails from a long line of musicians, including his parents, who met in their college choir group. Growing up, he sang in church and in a band with one of his siblings. He later went to a performing arts high school where his passion for songwriting blossomed.

“Writing has always given me a chance to express some of the emotions that I felt like I couldn’t speak out loud,” he says. This was especially true when he was first exploring his sexuality and learning to embrace his “uniqueness” as a Black gay man. 

In 2008, tragedy befell the Jackson family: Jackson’s younger brother, Vaugh, passed away. Distraught, Victor took an extended hiatus from making music and pursued a career in choreography and creative direction. “I didn’t have the words for it then,” he shares. “Now, I know it to be survivor’s remorse.” 

Jackson eventually returned to writing and he released his latest EP, the hopeful, soul-infused “Man.Muse.Magic.” in 2020. The project is packed with love songs, which he penned as a post-breakup “manifestation practice” at the encouragement of one of his mentors.

Soon after it dropped, Jackson was approached at a Pride event by a fan. “He said, ‘I never knew how much I needed to hear music about Black queer love until I heard your music,’” the artist recalls. “I love the fact that my music can be a seed of hope for other Black queer folks to know that they deserve to live, they deserve to love and they deserve to dance.”

Jackson plans to use his LGBTQ+ Emerging Artist Award to continue making music about Black queer joy. “We give so much to the world,” he says. “And I believe through the storytelling in my music, I’m able to encourage people — Black queer folks, especially, — to call in the things that they need, call in the healing they require… and call in the ease and abundance that is our portion.”

Singer-songwriter, Victor Jackson

Singer-songwriter, Victor Jackson - Photo courtesy of Victor Jackson

Emma Jayne: “Queering” the songwriting process

Chicago-born artist Emma Jayne (she/they) initially approached the songwriting process with fixed parameters. “I used to have a rule that once I wrote a song, I wouldn't go back and change anything, because I wanted to save it the way that it originally came out. But now I'm a little less rigid about that,” says Jayne. 

This shift occurred as she came into her queer identity at 21 and felt more empowered to play and experiment with their own writing and co-writing. “I’m kind of ‘queering’ the songwriting process,” says Jayne. “I feel like once you open yourself up to a less rigid way of being and loving, the rest of your life follows.”

They started piano lessons at age six and later fell in love with the ukulele. They recall taking the instrument to summer camp, where a supportive counselor encouraged them to perform and record their folksy, confessional tunes. Jayne still writes primarily from lived experience, channeling their feelings around topics like mental health or romantic “situation-ships” into roots-inspired indie-pop.

Jayne graduated college with a degree in journalism and worked in podcasting, indulging their musical side with one-off gigs and personal projects. She put out her debut album, Jetlag, in 2017 and has steadily released new music in the years since.

Today, they work at a national nonprofit serving LGBTQIA+ youth through the arts. “Music and art are infused into every aspect of my life,” says Jayne. “And the thing right now that is keeping me going with my artistic practice — aside from my own enjoyment and catharsis — is being a role model to the youth we serve.” 

Receiving the LGBTQ+ Emerging Artist Award has given Jayne a boost to pursue their own art. “Having the means to make your art through a generous grant like the one I received means a lot. It's letting me write my next album or put on my next solo show. Without it, I would have been a little stuck,” she says of the award, which offers the financial support needed to free up focus for their next project.

Singer-songwriter, Emma Jayne

Singer-songwriter, Emma Jayne - Photo courtesy of Emma Jayne

Sam Manzella

is a GLAAD Media Award-nominated queer writer, editor and digital producer based in Brooklyn. She writes about LGBTQ culture, health and wellness, music and astrology for outlets like them., Cosmopolitan, Apartment Therapy and more. She was previously an associate editor at Logo, Paramount’s LGBTQ digital brand.